• Natalie Wisdom

Brae Singleton, Professional Stage Manager.

[Interview Date: November 20, 2020]

First National Tour of Frozen, National Tours of Aladdin, Something Rotten, Newsies.

Can you describe your experience in Portland, OR the week leading up to shut-down and also what the day of the official shut-down announcement was like for you?

The week we arrived in Portland, OR (March 2nd) I came down with a bad case of the flu (confirmed with a positive flu test). During that week, other states started restricting large gatherings. California restricted groups larger that 1000, then dropped that to 250, closing most productions in the state. Washington state soon followed. I was able to return to work on March 10th. The next day after the show, our PSM and I overheard a local stagehand say that the governor was going to do the same in Oregon. An hour later the order came down from the governor. The email from company management for a full company meeting the following day was not surprising. The day of the meeting turned into a fog of sickness and an attempt at quick planning and logistics. That night, my fever returned and the next day, after another trip to the doctor, I found out I had pneumonia (which I much later found out was COVID from an antibody test). The whole event didn’t seem real. Not sure if it was from the sickness or the fact that I’ve ingested too much post-apocalyptic/pandemic entertainment over the years.

Did you anticipate Broadway and other theatre productions would be closed for this long?

On the day we were shut down, I knew that it would be longer than a month. The initial estimate that we were told was for a July return (I believe, could be wrong). But my initial estimate was September. As cases continue to climb, my estimation moves further and further out. As of now (11/20/20) I think the earliest we will be back is July 2021, but that could very well get pushed to September.

As a Stage Manager, what were the biggest challenges for you when you saw things were shutting down? Were there any specific challenges relating to but not limited to things like load-out, cast morale, etc.?

I had been following it pretty closely since the Wuhan outbreak. I started seeing supplies on Amazon spike in price, people charging $75 for a small bottle of hand sanitizer, no masks available. But us getting shut down didn’t really cross my mind for some reason.

I always feel fortunate working for Disney. I feel like we always have the resources we need and feel looked after. Company management gathered all of us a few weeks in advance to tell us that the company was closely monitoring the situation. They sensibly stopped backstage tours and put restrictions on signing at the stage door. I think the biggest challenge was not knowing if the virus was already there. There was no testing around, so it didn’t seem like an imminent threat. Little did I know that I would get it a few weeks later. On the day we were told we were being shut down, we did our load-out since we would certainly not be returning to Portland. The crew would be brought back to do the actual load out at a later time. We cancelled all rehearsals (Our puppet designer was scheduled to come out the next day).

What precautions have you discussed or heard discussed in regards to innovative ways to come back to safe rehearsals and performances? How do you think this will make your job different when you return?

There have been so many possible precautions thrown around. I think, ultimately, by the time we are able to come back, the virus will have to be under significant control. And as Europe has recently shown us, even if you get case numbers very low, without a vaccine, it would be extremely easy for this to blow up again. So, I doubt we will come back until a vaccine is widely spread. 60-80% of the population, depending on who you ask. So, by the time an audience would be safe being shoulder to shoulder in a theatre with 2,000 other people, common sense measures would probably be enough. Crew backstage wearing masks, temperature checks at the door, a more stringent policy on staying home when sick, etc. One thing that quite a few stage managers are pushing that is being supported by the union is that a lot of these safety measures can’t come down to stage management. There is too much that we have to do on a daily basis to also take temperatures at the stage door, ensure every surface in the building is sanitized, etc. I could easily see shows needing to add more swings/understudies in case of sickness.

What have, you, personally, been doing over the past several months to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

I have been extremely fortunate throughout the pandemic. I am staying at my Mom’s house in Illinois, out in farm fields with space outside. So, I’ve been able to save money and get to be outside and work around the house during all of this. I’ve been able to keep up a fitness routine to keep myself active and was able to take a 6-week RV trip (the most control over my environment as possible, when traveling). I’ve been able to do projects I never had time for and have been able to re-charge. I was getting burnt out there for a while, but I will certainly be ready to come back when the time is right. Having a routine has been the most helpful thing for me.

What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown for you?

I think the hardest part has been not being able to see and hangout with the friends that I love. Virtual is just not the same. I also really love my job, seeing Frozen Australia opening soon has me pining for it again.

What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?

It will be interesting to see how views on work/life balance play out after this. We’ve all had so much time to do other activities that we may not want to give up when we have to go back to work. I also think that this is going to normalize wearing masks when people are sick. Something that we, as a country, have made fun of other countries for, but Americans may now see the benefit of when they themselves, or others are sick. We could also see more doctors be willing to do virtual visits in the future, which would be huge for the touring industry.

What is your biggest worry right now?

Health insurance is certainly a big one. I am fortunate enough to have 6 months of coverage next year, but beyond that is a big question mark. Hopefully, the new administration will be able to pass a COBRA subsidy, because my savings wouldn’t be able to cover me for full coverage without it.

What do you miss the most about Frozen and live theatre, in general?

Everything! I miss the people I get to work with, calling shows, running the deck, traveling, problem solving; the list goes on. I love my job, and I’m very excited for it to come back and be able to appreciate it in a new way.

What’s your all-time favorite theatre memory?

Calling Newsies for the first time. It was the first big musical I called, the first with that much automation, and the first time calling a show for that many people. On Newsies, the overture started with a trumpet solo, and the audience would go INSANE. It was like calling a rock concert. That first moment sent a shiver up my spine and a tear to my eye. Just for half a second, before calling the next cue. :)

What is the first thing you’re going to do when live theatre is back?

Do the first three months of the show creation process all over again, but greatly condensed. Haha. It’s going to be a very hectic time.

What advice do you have for young Broadway Stage Manager hopefuls during this time?

Try to keep your head up. Theatre will come back in full force. It will take a couple of years, but it will. There has never been a time that more professional SMs have been so accessible and available. Look for events that gather SMs. Watch Zoom workshops. Read management and leadership books. Use this time as an opportunity to learn more, not just about stage management but other fields as well. Learning what others need to do their job only makes you a more effective manager.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical? Spring Awakening

Favorite Broadway Play? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Favorite Movie Musical? Mary Poppins

Move that you think should be a musical? Moana

Hairspray or Grease? Hairspray

Legally Blonde or Spring Awakening? Spring Awakening

Wicked or Chicago? Wicked

Favorite Theatre Ritual? Lighting the ghost light

Favorite NYC Restaurant? Sweet Chick

Favorite Stage Manager Gadget (glow tape, spike tape etc.)? Marley Tape – Keeps spikes from coming up.

Best Personal Superhero Stage Manager Skill? Keeping calm when everything falls apart and moving quickly and quietly backstage (also great for accidentally sneaking up on performers.)

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